Letter to the Editor: No Need for the Tax Increase

No member of the Board of Supervisors justified the proposed retroactive 2-cent real estate tax increase at the public hearing Wednesday on Clarke County’s proposed $38-million budget for the new fiscal year.
Supervisor John Staelin of Millwood, the board’s finance committee chairman, is leading the effort to increase the county real estate tax from 62-cents to 64-cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, in order to raise an extra $200,000 for the county general fund.   But the extra money is not needed by the government and should be left with us.
Certainly the county’s budget czar Thomas Judge wants the tax hike and extra $200,000 to be taken from us and put in his hands to administer for local government and the public schools.
I question the whole new arrangement of having Mr. Judge, who is technically a school employee and School Board clerk reporting to School Superintendent Michael Murphy, also in a position to control all government-wide money matters and purchasing for the county as director of what they call Joint Administrative Services. But that’s another issue.
The main point is the tax hike being pushed for a board vote next Wednesday is totally unnecessary and should be rejected by Supervisors Michael Hobert, David Weiss, Barbara Byrd, and Bev McKay. As I reminded them at the public hearing, here’s why:
First, the proposed 2013 budget is already raising the schools amount by $1.5 million and giving back $186,014 of unspent funds for this year.
But why has the cost per student in the public schools risen more than 6 percent since the 2008-09 school year –– from $4,875 per student in FY 2008 to $5,190 per student in FY 2011 –– while the number of students has dropped 5 percent over the same period –– from 2,150 average daily membership in 2008-09 to 2,040 in 2011-12, a drop of 110 students?
Superintendent Murphy made light of the per student cost increase in his budget presentation to the School Board on Jan. 17.   “But don’t we have fewer students?” he asked.   “We do, but student and staff needs continue to increase; different students and different rules.”
This is not adequate and fails to explain why we’ve had a $314 per-student cost increase over the past four years –– and a decade since the maligned No Child Left Behind legislation came and went.
I’m sorry, but Dr. Murphy’s oft-repeated phrase that   “These are exciting times for our children” does not justify his hand going deeper into our pockets for even more money.   He’ll have to get by with the $25.8-million already in the budget.
Also, the case against the tax increase is strengthened by the fact that the county has had much additional leftover surplus cash unspent from annual county appropriations, state and federal money –– mostly excess school funds.
The carryover surpluses have been:
  •      $247,227 in the present fiscal year that ends June 30;
  •      $186,014 for FY 2011 that ended last June 30;
  •      $645,165 for 2009-10;
  •      $993,717 for 2008-09; and
  •      $697,296 for 2007-08.
Clarke County’s yearly certified public audit reports have shown additional end-of-year government savings that went into the county’s so-called “rainy day fund,” which had grown to a total of more than $15-million by last July.
Clarke County’s “rainy day” slush fund is at least 13 percent bigger than all counties around us and the City of Winchester, and increased by the following amounts over the past five years:
  •      $418,733 for FY 2011 that ended last June 30;
  •      $400,000 for 2009-10;
  •      $442,329 for 2008-09; and
  •      $536,770 for 2007-08.
So with hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly unspent school funds carried over, and more hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly general government savings held in interest-bearing liquid CDs or investment bonds deposited with the county’s bank, for a “rainy-day” fund totaling almost half the county’s total yearly spending, why is Supervisor Staelin calling for an added real estate tax hike on residents who are not in budget Director Judge’s privileged yearly $99,734 pay grade?
Clearly, the proposed tax hike is totally unnecessary, indefensible, and quite frankly in the vein of big-government spend-crazy run amok.
As we see, the county government and schools are awash with already appropriated money. And for elected representatives who say they are for leaner, less expensive, more affordable government and lower taxes, real conservatives would find the tax hike shameful.
Hopefully by next Wednesday, when they meet for their final vote on the budget, our Board of Supervisors will see the light and roundly vote against proceeding with the unwarranted and economically unhelpful 2-cent real estate tax hike.
George Archibald


  1. Mr. Archibald, your weak attack on Mr. Judge does you a disservice. He is not a subordinate to Dr. Murphy; if anything, he reports to Mr. Ash, the County Administrator, although I believe the Joint Administrative Services office is sort-of its own office. The schools pay part of his salary, but not the majority of it. Again…I might be wrong about this, but regardless, you’re barking up the wrong tree on that one.

    The carryover amounts you cite were spent the following years. Apparently you weren’t paying attention 2 years ago when Pete Dunning et al. demanded – required, even – that the schools lock aside some $500K of that $900K carryover for “debt service” and the rest was used for a one-time-bonus for school employees and some capital purchases. Thus, it ain’t in the “rainy day fund” anymore.

    I agree with you that it is funny that such amounts are found unspent year after year, but for you to alledge any sort of impropriety on Mr. Judge’s part is borderline libelous.

    This county has gone 4 years wtihout increasing its investment in the operations of its core services, including the schools and law enforcement. This tax increase is nominal, and critical, and should be supported by ALL of the supervisors.

    • Another View says:

      Government spending is NOT an “investment”. And have you not noticed the new high school building? Is that not spending on education?

      • Capital expenditures are not operational investments; they’re seperate pots of money. While it is important to have decent facilities, it’s equally important to provide salaries and benefits to attract and retain good people, and to provide the resources (police cars, educational resources, efficiant and modern computer software, etc.) that they need to do their job well.

        • Another View says:

          Hmmm, are not capital expenditures paid for with tax dollars? “[S]eparate pots of money” are not just delivered by the capital expenditure fairy!

  2. Roscoe Evans says:

    I think I finally get it.

    The letter writer:

    1) Does not like Thomas Judge.
    2) Does not believe in public school education.
    3)Wants to substitute his personal political philosophy for the consensus of the electorate.

    I disagree on every point; and, I wish he would write shorter letters.

    Work harder. Pay more taxes. Stop whining.

  3. dontaskme says:

    how about raising the land use tax rate two cents also (not sure if the proposed 2 cent tax hike includes land use or not, but if it does not, then it should).

  4. Another View says:

    The taxpayer should be permitted to keep more of their own money. GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO WITH LESS!

    • OK, Armchair Tom Judge…where would you cut? You’re always carping your neo-con/almost-libertarian tripe…where would you cut? The budget’s available online….have at it.

      Salary increases? Sorry…the bulk was passed along by Richmond as THEY avoided funding their obligations, again, to the VRS and other promises. Staff? OK…who you gonna give a pink slip to? A deputy? A teacher? A social worker? A sanitation engineer? A cubicle dweller in the county office? A cut saves salary & benefits, but costs in loss of institutional knowledge and manpower availability and so forth. So…what’s that worth to you?

      Conservation easements? Perhaps that’s an area, but what is the actualized savings? Not that much, really…enough for 2 police cars, perhaps.

      So…spare us your trite “Starve the beast!” bluster, AV. If that’s all you have, you’ve added nothing to the debate but hot air and Norquist-esque bumper stickers.

      • Another View says:

        I’d rather “starve the beast” than simply throw other people’s money at the matter. How about cutting Loudoun Transit, the Health Department, the Planning Administration, the Arts, NW Community Services, Shenandoah Agency for the Aging, the Recreation Dept., Concern Hotline, and many other places government has no business spending other people’s money? Then MAYBE, just MAYBE, there will be money in future years after we have gotten rid of that tyrant in Washington and the economy improves.

  5. My 2 Cents says:

    How is this 2 cent increase going to break anyone?

    • Another View says:

      You are missing the point. The point is not whether anyone or everyone can afford another two (2) cents. The point is whose money is it, and who is better to spend it. I believe that the government should not get one (1) penny of taxpayer money it does not absolutely need. And until the budget is cut significantly, there is no need for more taxpayer money. Moreover, when privately employed taxpayers are not receiving raises, government employees should not be receiving raises.

  6. George Archibald says:

    Response to Travis: This was not an at “attack on Mr. Judge,” but simple recognition that he has cleverly organized the important $99,734-per-year job for himself as chief financial director of both the county-wide government and agencies and the public school system. Both governmental entities have mutual and conflicting objectives and interests. My criticism of this arrangement is not an “attack,” but sensible recognition that one should avoid such conflicts at all costs and not fold two such jobs into one on the assumption that combining them is somehow streamlining in the name of fiscally conservative management and cost reduction.

    Response to Roscoe Evans: Your personal assault on my motives and philosophy, as you try to characterize them, is absurd: For the record: (1) I personally like and admire Mr. Judge, but disagree with his clever bureaucratic success in making himself Clarke County’s central budget czar as a school employee, as discovered by my Freedom of Information Act request just answered by County Administrator David Ash:

    Mr. Ash provided me under the FOIA statute s copy of Mr. Judge’s own job contract, titled “Memorandum of Agreement between Clarke County Board of Supervisors and Clarke County School Board Amending in its Entirety A Similar Agreement Dated 12/22/1993,.”

    This “Memorandum of Agreement,” which Mr. Judge wrote himself, creates Mr. Judge’s position as Director of the county’s Joint Administrative Services Board, i.e. budget and financial czar. This Agreement is at this very time being circulated for signature by Mr. Ash as County Administrator; J. Michael Hobert, chairman of the Board of Supervisorts; Michael L. Murphy, Dicision Superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools; and Janet Alger, School Board chairman.

    The Agreement drafted by Mr. Judge delegates to “the Joint Administrative Services office” which he heads as the $99,734-per-year director, the following areas for both the county government and public school system:

    “• Budgets; budget analysis; forecasting
    • Financial Accounting;
    • Accounts Payable;
    • Purchasing;
    • Payroll and Benefits;
    • Grants Management;
    • Insurance;
    • Information Technology Governance Coordination;
    • Clarke County Sanitary Authority Administrative Support;
    • Fiscal Agency Services, as assigned;
    • Duties of School Board Clerk, as assigned;
    • Financial management and advice to such other agencies as may hereinafter be included in this agreement;
    • Maintain a close working relationship with the County Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue, and shall upon request of either, offer such advice and assistance as may be appropriate.”

    Funding for the Joint Administrative Services office is to be “in such amounts and such proportion as may be agreed” by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. The agreement remains in effect indefinitely “until superseded.”

    The Agreement stipulates that the seven “Employees of the office shall operate under the personnel policies of the Clarke County Public Schools,” run by Division Superintendent Murphy, The office’s present total annual payroll is $373,305.

    • So…what is your point, sir? Back just a few years ago, CCPS had – for a brief time – its own budget/financial director, Phil Trayer. Robina Bouffault, Pete Dunning, et al., railed high and low that such a setup was redundant, a waste of money, and ridiculous. Snoop around, newshound, as the archives are there somewhere.

      Just as there is an agreement to have a joint maintenance department, Purchasing (under Mike Legge), and other arrangements, the motive (foisted by the supervisors) was to bring all financial matters of the county under one roof – and it was played out in the pages of the Clarke Times-Courier. Once that was done, Mr. Judge and others began to see the reality of the need for new and better financial and other software (the ERP platform), and other issues. The motive was a streamlining of services and such…in and of itself not a bad goal for a small county…albeit one hampered by a crappy IT infrastructure.

      And…despite your British snippiness, filing a FOIA (and threatening court action if it wasn’t granted in your smug little way) to challenge a professional and call him a “czar” and insinuate that he’s manipulated all of this for himself IS indeed an attack on him. You call into question his motives, and of the supervisors who employed him at the start…but all you accomplish is making yourself look foolish.

      • Another View says:

        Actually, government is required to comply promptly with FOIA requests, and the proper remedy is court action.

  7. George Archibald says:

    Fred: Please stick to facts if you disagree and don’t attack because you disagree or don’t like someone. To be honest, Pete Dunning and Robina Bouffault both contributed greatly and generously to Clarke County/Berryville, its people, and our state for many, many years and are “class acts.” Your demeaning reference to them is obnoxious and mean-spirited. Shame on you.

    • George, my reference to them involves their many well-witnessed protests against the budget choices of the previous school administration, at both School Board and supervisors’ meetings over the years – including some of Pete’s rather vocal and highly insulting dismissals of both the previous and current superintendents and some of those who worked for them – so please don’t presume that you have the standing to scold me. Your tone in this letter, in the article about your FOIA request, and watching you in action at a few public meetings give me ample evidence to comment on your dogged pursuit of drama that only exists within your head.

  8. Clarke Life says:

    Love how the Pubs all look after one another!

  9. George Archibald says:

    Clarke Get-A-Life: You don’t know me. I’m not a “Pub,” even though I was British 45 years ago and used to drink. Stick to the facts and stay credible.

  10. Tony Parrott says:

    Oh George,
    Your morass editorials leave me wondering why the discontent with pretty much “everything” here in Clarke Co. Even when you state something I can agree with I find myself disagreeing.

    Are you new to the county? And I don’t mean that in a negative way just trying to understand you better.

  11. A Neighbor says:

    Unfortunately, I’ve found that if you’re not born here … you’re new. Doesn’t matter whether you’ve been here one (1), five (5) or twenty-five (25) years: new.
    We can’t afford a park in the retreat? How about we take a year break from scooping up more land easements that truly benefit so few.

    • jennifer says:

      Come on people. It is time to get over this “from here” vs “come here” thing. I have been here nearly 25 years and have always felt welcome. No, I am not “from here” but who cares. I have lived in enough different places now that I really don’t know what to say if someone asks where I am from. I only lived where I was born for a year, so I am not really from there I don’t guess. At just under 50 I have been here for just about half my life, so this is my home. We are all neighbors and should treat each other that way, even (perhaps especially) when we disagree about important things like taxes and box stores.

      I think if you do a little checking, you will find out that many of the people in local political offices are not even “from here” by the “born here” definition.

      Really I believe the animosity that comes from people who have been here and like it here, all their life or half their life, or whatever, is toward those who move in and immediately start complaining about what we don’t have. If you plan on staying, become involved in the evolution of our community through action, not just nameless blogging about how someone else should do something. If you aren’t staying than why insist on change here?